Rep. Rick Lewis, R-Silverton, is a member of the super-minority caucus in the Oregon House. But the former mayor and police chief of his home town hasn’t let that get in the way of pushing bills for his constituents.
In his April 17 newsletter to the folks back home, Lewis starts off by expressing concern about the state’s long-term fiscal sustainability, then quickly moves on to discuss what he has been doing in the first half of the 2019 legislative session that impacts his mid-Willamette Valley constituency.
His most notable achievement is serving as co-chair of the Oil Train Safety work group, which began to meet in the spring of 2018. Lewis reports the work group produced two legislative concepts resulting in House 2209, requiring railroads that own or operate hazard train routes in Oregon to prepare oil spill contingency plans approved by the Department of Environmental Quality. HB 2209 passed out of committee on a unanimous vote.
Lewis also served as co-chair for a work group on House Bill 2201 that would establish a Veteran Educational Bridge Grant Program within the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The program, according to Lewis, would provide assistance to veterans who don’t qualify for other kinds of assistance, such as veterans who could lose their financial aid because they are unable to complete a degree program due to the unavailability of required courses.
Lewis told constituents House Bill 2236, for which he was the chief sponsor, cleared the Oregon House. The bill, he says, clarifies the operation of farm equipment at low speeds on state highways and removes confusion when equipment moves across county lines that have had different regulations.
On behalf of his farm-centric community, Lewis expressed hope that House Bill 2264, which exempts farm machinery and equipment from property taxation, would be scheduled for a work session and pass out of House Revenue.
Lewis said he was unsuccessful in pushing through House Bill 3406 that would have reimbursed small cities and counties if they waive system development charges for affordable housing. He indicated he would re-introduce his measure in the 2020 session.
Another failure Lewis noted was House Bill 3404, which he sponsored to clarify under what situations mental health providers would be required to report imminent threats made by their patients. The bill also would have granted civil and criminal immunity for providers who made reports in good faith.
The Lewis newsletter is not untypical for Oregon lawmakers who mostly work outside the polarizing bubble of partisanship on issues that concern everyday Oregonians. It is harder for legislators in the minority to move bills, but as Lewis’ report shows, it isn’t impossible.
News reports of the legislature, especially as the session winds down with high-profile issues in the balance, tend to highlight controversy. At the mid-point of the session, it is useful to give some light to the bipartisan and serious work that occurs without a lot of fanfare.